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209 of 258 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great show about one person's search for the possibility of redemption, August 5, 2007
This review is from: Angel: The Complete Series (Collector's Set) (DVD)
Warning! Contains major spoilers!

I recently watched a great documentary about the women stunt double's Jeannie Epper and ZoŽ Bell. The latter was Lucy Lawless's stunt double on XENA, though she is now perhaps best known for her work as Uma Thurman's double in KILL BILL and her amazing work playing herself in DEATH PROOF (she was the New Zealand chick on the hood of the Dodge Challenger). The extras included an interview with Quentin Tarantino and one of the things they asked him was his thoughts on XENA, the show on which Bell first performed (as Lucy Lawless points out, two women portrayed Xena, but only one really got credit). His analysis of XENA was, I think, really profound. The central idea was that Xena was someone who had committed crimes so extensive and so extreme that even though she had turned to the path of doing good, she was never going to be able to balance things. No matter how many good things she did, the bad would still overshadow them. As he puts it, not matter what she does "she'll only be paying ten cents on the dollar." The second I heard this from Tarantino, I realized that he was describing not only Xena but also Angel. If anything, Angel's crimes were worse than Xena's because he not only killed his victims, but also robbed them of their souls. Rarely has television seen such an extended examination of the possibilities of personal salvation.

XENA and ANGEL had one other thing in common. Both were among the most successful spin offs in TV history. Though XENA never garnered the critical acclaim that either BUFFY or ANGEL achieved, it far surpassed HERCULES in both popularity and critical acclaim. ANGEL never eclipsed BUFFY as XENA did HERCULES, but it nonetheless became one of the most critically acclaimed shows on TV. Its cancellation following its fifth season, when it was one of the highest rated shows on the WB, remains one of the most mystifying of the past decade. The fan campaign to save the show far surpassed the successful campaign to save JERICHO this year. And although Joss Whedon has recently announced that he intends to produce ANGEL Season 6 in comic form, just as he is currently undertaking BUFFY Season 8 on Darkhorse Comics, ANGEL continues to be missed by its fans.

One of the many things that made ANGEL so great was that the show not only focused on the central arc concerning Angel, but also featured fully developed arcs for all the major characters. The show was not simply about Angel, but almost equally about the other characters as well. Although Angel was clearly the central character, the show was very much about the chosen family that was created around him. Cordelia, Doyle, Wesley, Gunn, Fred, Lorne, and finally Spike and Illyria managed to form a caring if frequently dysfunctional family. Ironically, the one person who was not able to become a part of that family was Angel's own son, who never really meshed either with the overall narrative or with the other characters.

But at the center of the show from beginning to end was Angel's quest to try and be a force for good despite all the evil he afflicted. He wasn't in the least convinced that he could make amends ("Amends" was, in fact, the title of possibly the greatest of the Angel episodes on BUFFY) and he was pretty much convinced that in the end good might not win out over evil, but something he tells Detective Kate Lockley in the Season Two episode "Epiphany" gets to the heart of the show. Although she never invites him into his house, he nevertheless is able to enter her apartment when he realizes that she has attempted suicide. He helps save her life and afterwards they are talking. He explains that he has to strive to do what is right not knowing if he will be successful, knowing that "there are no big wins." This is similar to the idea expressed in the very last line in the series, when Angel tells his friends, faced with fighting an overwhelming army of evil creatures, "Let's get to work." The whole idea is to not worry about results, but only worry about intent, to make sure you are striving to do good, to not give up or into despair.

It was not a perfect show. It was, in fact, a fairly unlucky show. There were also a couple of ill-advised story arcs. In Season Three there was the absolutely bizarre idea of Angel's son Connor, easily the most unpopular character in the Slayerverse, rivaled distantly by Dawn on BUFFY. Even worse was the decision to make Cordy evil in Season Four. And even worse was the abuse of the magnificent Gina Torres as Jasmine in Season Four. The result was that the last quarter of Season Three (in what was otherwise a magnificent season) and most of Season Four were possibly the worst thing that ever happened on a Joss Whedon show. Even worse than all of this was the brief sexual pairing of Connor and Evil Cordy in Season Four, a sequence that registered as high on the Ick-o-meter as anything ever seen on prime time television. Things were also hurt by Charisma Carpenter's unanticipated leave of absence towards the end of Season Three (which caused some rapid rewriting of several episodes) and her delay in informing Whedon and Co. that she was pregnant in Season Four. This resulted in her being written out of the show, though she did make a wonderful farewell appearance in a single Season Five episode.

But despite the problems with the end of Season Three and the myriad of problems in Season Four, the show never ceased to be less than fascinating. Even Season Four had some marvelous episodes, including the haunting season premiere, the marvelous comic episode "Spin the Bottle," and the three-part Faith sequence in the middle of the season. There were also some amazing special effects in Season Four as well as the Beast, an absolutely haunting Big Bad. The show did manage to rally for a wonderful Season Five, complete with the addition of Spike from BUFFY. By the end of the season Spike and Angel had come to form a great team and had the show returned for another year the show would have become something of a buddy show centered on them.

Speaking of Season Six, we know something of what would have happened thanks to producer Jeffrey Bell, who shared some of the ideas they were developing. There was, for instance, talk of an episode in which Angel and Spike would have undertaken a case that would have required them to go in drag. But the most fascinating arc definitely centered on Illyria. Although the goddess Illyria had taken over Fred's body, supposedly destroying her soul, in Season Six we would have found that this was wrong. Allyson Hanigan would have guest starred as Willow and would have performed a spell that would have allowed Fred to come back. Illyria, however, would not have disappeared. Instead, Amy Acker would have played both characters. When Bell in interviews shared all this my anger at the WB (good riddance to a bad network) reflamed. Wesley would not, of course, have died had there been a Season Six, and I can just imagine the dynamics between Wesley and Fred on the one hand, and an intensely powerful Illyria who had something resembling a crush on Wesley.

Still, the good on the show dramatically outweighed the bad and even at its worst it remained one of the best shows on television. And although one can be angry at it being cancelled when there were still some wonderful story arcs to be told, one can also be grateful that we got five full seasons. It definitely goes on the list of the best shows on television of the past twenty years.
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Showing 1-10 of 18 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 4, 2007 6:42:27 PM PDT
LadyFaye says:
This was a great review. I haven't seen the final episodes of season 6 though. It broke my heart to read that Wesley dies. That was a major drawback on this review. Keep in mind, there are a few of us out there that haven't seen the entire series yet.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 16, 2007 11:46:54 AM PDT
Yes, and for those who haven't see it I included that spoiler warning in the very first line.

BTW, the series ended after five seasons. Season Six had only had a few episodes planned. Now, because of the huge success (both critical and in terms of sales) of the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, SEASON EIGHT comic series, they are going to take a shot at doing the same with ANGEL. BUFFY is pretty much an open run at the moment. The sales are such that they will probably do the comic as long as Whedon wants to stay with it. But ANGEL SEASON SIX is currently scheduled for a brief six-episode run. If the sales are strong it could end up being expanded. I'm game.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2007 7:31:28 AM PDT
jimbis says:
Hi. I'm curious what you meant by, "If anything, Angel's crimes were worse than Xena's because he not only killed his victims, but also robbed them of their souls."

I remember nothing in either Buffy or Angel to suggest that being killed by a vampire actually costs one their soul. The body dies, the soul leaves and the demon takes over. Angel and Spike became good guys after their souls were returned. I don't remember ever being told where the souls were.

Hope you see this reply. I'm curious to hear what you think on this. Great review!

Posted on Nov 5, 2007 1:28:33 PM PST
MightyMad says:
Your review is spot-on. Glad to find someone else who love for Angel can only be equal to his hatred of the WB!
You're pretty much on the money on everything... except for this statement:

"The result was that the last quarter of Season Three (in what was otherwise a magnificent season) and most of Season Four were possibly the worst thing that ever happened on a Joss Whedon show."

Now, obviously, that whole 'destroyer' storyline wasn't your cup of tea, and far from me to try to change your mind on this (since you're obviously a die-hard fan, it would be quite pointless!) But let's be clear about something: regardless of your overall view on Angel: Season 3 and 4, you got to admit those seasons to be miles ahead of Buffy Season 6 and 7, ESPECIALLY that unwatchable Willow-is-evil Season 6 finale. Oh, and the ridiculous hallowness of Season 7... so painful, especially in light of all that Wheadon came up with for Season 8.

Nah, as bad as you thought they were, Season Three and Four of Angel never reach that level of awfulness... Funniest thing of it all: even the worst of Buffy and Angel is Emmy-worthing compare to the crap currently available on the CW! Unbelievable, yet true...

Posted on Dec 19, 2007 9:27:51 PM PST
I almost wept with this comment. Season 6 info provided (Fred comeback) was so good. I miss this Tv series.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2007 1:54:25 PM PST
CheeryToes says:
I cannot believe how much I loved this show, and I really only started watching it in reruns. Everyone one of them over and over, my kids bought me this series set for Christmas and I'm 50 years old! The outline of some ideas for season 6 make me sick the show didn't get another year. However, that would mean I wouldn't have Bones, and I love it's a strange we won't talk about Firefly...or even Arrested Development - every network seems to make arbitrary and stupid decisions.

Posted on Feb 16, 2008 6:13:58 PM PST
That was a nice review. It's funny, though, because I also thought Angel was a great show, but I felt that Season 4 was quite strong, and I enjoyed the Connor storyline...whereas I thought the show ground down in Season 5 when they inexplicably shows to work at Wolfram and Hart.

To each their own I guess.

Posted on Feb 18, 2008 8:53:02 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 18, 2008 8:53:41 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2008 5:17:39 AM PST
J. Lin says:
I think what Robert meant was that Angelus' crimes figuratively cost them their souls (and in some cases, if he turned them to vampires, literally). For an example of the former, he caused Holtz to basically throw away everything that was "good" about himself and devote himself to vengeance against Angel(us). Hope this helps (and I'm interpreting the statement correctly)!

Posted on Apr 14, 2008 10:40:24 PM PDT
kaduzy says:
I appreciate this review, and voted it helpful. You echoed almost verbatim some of my own thoughts on Angel and his purpose as someone who fights the good fight in spite of never being able to truly atone for his sins. I wrote a similar review of Angel Season 5.

However, I have to say that your review was NOT as helpful as it really could have been because you fail to illustrate the differences between this set and the individual seasons very clearly. You mention briefly some season 6 story lines which is nice, but you haven't told me why I should or should not buy this set if I already own all five seasons, or what incentive there is to own this set instead. You should have included more info about content and extras.

Anywho, that's just my ten cents. Thanks for a well written review. It's always nice to find a few hard core Angel fans out there among all the Buffy-ites.
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